Pastors across America are supposed to be the pillars of their communities, but when they behave badly they ruin their spiritual mission and erode trust in their institutions.
From Hillsong’s disgraced Carl Lentz, who had multiple affairs with women, to an Indiana pastor who was confronted in front of his entire congregation about his sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl, these are the biggest falls from grace.
Carl Lentz and the Hillsong scandal: Affairs and abuse accusations
Carl Lentz, the star pastor who brought the global megachurch Hillsong from Australia to the United States, was fired in 2020 after it was exposed that he cheated on his wife
Lentz with Justin Bieber, one of the church’s most famous parishioners. Lentz left the church after admitting to cheating on his wife
Carl Lentz, the star pastor who brought the global megachurch Hillsong from Australia to the United States, and once ministered to Justin Bieber and a bevy of other celebrities and sports stars, was exposed in 2020 for cheating on his wife.
He was fired from the church in November 2020 after his five-month affair with Brooklyn-based jewelry designer Ranin Karim emerged.
Lentz and his wife Laura were also the subject of abuse accusations from another Hillsong pastor.
Leona Kimes, co-pastor of Hillsong Boston with her husband Josh, announced in a bombshell Medium post in May 2021 that she had been ‘subjected to manipulation, control, bullying, abuse of power, and sexual abuse’ by the Lentzes while working at their home as a nanny. The Lentzes strongly denied Kimes’s allegations.
The Christian Post published excerpts of an internal investigation into the Lentzes’ behavior, which found that Laura had punched Leona Kimes when she found her snuggled on the sofa with her husband Carl.
The investigation into the Lentzes also alleges that while Lentz was seeing Ranin Karim, he also engaged in another ‘inappropriate relationship’ with a woman he called Germany, who he met in Brooklyn.
Lentz was accused of causing workers to suffer mental health problems by belittling and bullying them. Other former church members have compared the church to a cult and detailed incidents of sexual assault.
Josh and Leona Kimes resigned as Hillsong pastors in April 2022 after Josh admitted sending a ‘racist text’ to a congregant.
In 2022, Hillsong Dallas pastor Reed Bogard was accused of raping a female staffer who he had an affair with in 2013.
He was ousted from the church along with his wife amid claims they had been misappropriating church donations to fund their lavish lifestyle.
It then emerged he had an affair between October 2013 and 2014 with a junior female staffer.
The woman claimed in October 2020 – six years after the affair ended – that Bogard raped her the first time they had sex on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in 2013.
Hillsong started in Australia in 1983 and has since ballooned to become an international mega church with a celebrity following including Justin and Hailey Bieber.
But over the last few years, the so-called disciples of the church have revealed themselves to have somewhat compromised morals.
NYC’s ‘bling bishop’ Lamor Whitehead: Accused of scams
New York City’s notorious ‘bling bishop’ Lamor Whitehead, who is the founder of Brooklyn’s Leaders of Tomorrow International Church, was charged in December 2022 with scamming his parishioners out of more than $100,000 and lying to the FBI
Lamor Whitehead made headlines when he was robbed at gunpoint by two men while giving a live-streamed sermon
Whitehead showed up in a white Rolls Royce for the arraignment of two men who robbed him during his sermon
New York City’s notorious ‘bling pastor’ Lamor Whitehead, the founder of Brooklyn’s Leaders of Tomorrow International Church, was charged in December 2022 with scamming his parishioners out of more than $100,000 and lying to the FBI.
Whitehead, who made headlines for preaching prosperity, was robbed at gunpoint by two men while he was giving a live-streamed sermon.
It was later revealed that he had previously served two years in a state prison on multiple counts of identity fraud and grand larceny before he was released early for good behavior.
According to the indictment, Whitehead scammed one of his parishioners out of $90,000 from her retirement savings.
It says he had promised to buy the woman a home, but instead spent the money on luxury goods and clothing.
Separately, federal authorities allege Whitehead extorted an unnamed businessman out of $5,000 in April and May of 2022 and asked the man to lend him $50,000, promising he could make them both ‘millions’.
The pastor also made a name for himself negotiating the surrender of a subway shooting suspect who was wanted for killing a Goldman Sachs employee.
In May 2022, Whitehead rolled up to the NYPD’s Fifth Police Precinct on behalf of the shooting suspect in his $350,000 Rolls-Royce, wearing a Fendi blazer.
Whitehead, who denies the fraud allegations, was later hit with further fraud charges for fabricating bank records in an attempt to finance his million-dollar New Jersey mansion, federal prosecutors said.
The pastor allegedly created a fake bank account to get a mortgage loan in 2019 and altered bank records to make it appear that the LLC had an average balance of more than $2 million, when it actually had less than $10.
Miami pastor David Stocker: Allegedly had steamy affairs
David Stocker, 46, who was the pastor of Brave Church in Miami since 2014, was forced out in April 2022, when he was fired for ‘gross sexual misconduct and immoral actions’
Stocker was accused of engaging in affairs with three different women in his congregation, in a damning email sent to the church’s governing body exposing his philandering
David Stocker, 46, was fired from Brave Church in Miami’s Westchester district in April 2022 for allegedly having steamy affairs with three women from his congregation.
The clergyman, who had preached at the church since 2014, was also accused of using the church’s credit card to fund some of his illicit encounters, including paying for a flight to New York for one of his lovers.
The shocking allegations were contained in a 307-page complaint filed by the council that sued Stocker after he refused to step down and continued preaching despite being dismissed for breaching the church’s bylaws.
The pastor was investigated after the scorned woman from his first alleged affair reported him to the council in a damning email, in which she supplied ‘hundreds’ of photographs, videos, and text messages cataloging his shame.
The middle-aged mother alleged she and Stocker had sex on their first date as part of their ‘whirlwind romance’ and later had each other’s names tattooed on their necks with the day they met.
She also claimed the fired minister, whose position demanded he abstain totally from alcohol, was frequently drunk. One such incident was with a different alleged mistress at a Miami Heat basketball game, where police were called when the pair tried to walk on the court.
Indiana pastor John Lowe II: Had affair with 16-year-old
Pastor John Lowe II stepped down from the New Life Christian Church in Indiana in May 2022 after admitting he had an affair with a 16-year-old girl
Pastor John Lowe II stepped down from the New Life Christian Church in Indiana in May 2022 after admitting in front of his entire congregation that he had an affair with a 16-year-old girl.
In a shocking moment, the pastor was confronted on stage by Bobi Gephart, a 43-year-old woman who came forward with a microphone to tell their church in Warsaw, Indiana, how he’d groomed her as a teen, starting when she was 16 – the legal age of consent in the state.
Pastor Lowe II had told the church that he ‘sinned’ 20 years ago by committing adultery, without mentioning how old the woman or girl was at the time. He begged for the church’s forgiveness, then received a standing ovation.
Bobi then stormed towards the stage with her husband, Nate, to say it ‘was not just adultery’ because she was so young at the time.
She said to Lowe: ‘I was just 16 when you took my virginity on your office floor. Do you remember that? I know you do.
‘You did things to to my teenage body that should have never been done. If you can’t admit the truth, you have to answer to God. You are not the victim here.’
Her husband then presented a pearl necklace that his wife had been given by the church and a ‘purity ring’ that he said the pastor gave her during their affair.
Lowe has stepped down from the church and been scrubbed from its website.
Pastor Johnny Hunt: Accused of sexual assault
Former Southern Baptist Convention President, Johnny Hunt, 69, took the stage at Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida, in January 2023 to give his first sermon since he was suspended from the Southern Baptist Church in May 2022
Hunt (pictured with his wife) was suspended from the ministry after the Southern Baptist Church (SBC) found validity in allegations that he sexually assaulted a pastor’s wife – who was 24 years younger than him – in 2010 on a beach vacation
Former Southern Baptist Convention President, Johnny Hunt, 69, was suspended from the Southern Baptist Church (SBC) for allegedly sexually assaulting another pastor’s wife during a beach vacation in 2010.
But he returned to the pulpit in January 2023 at Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida, where he gave his first sermon in eight months.
Hunt used to preach at a First Baptist Church Woodstock in Georgia before he was suspended after SBC’s Executive Committee released an investigative report in May that found truth in the sexual assault claims against him.
He was accused of sexually assaulting a young pastor’s wife – who was 24 years younger than him – and telling her he wanted to have sex with her three times a day while on a Panama City beach vacation in 2010.
The pastor was found guilty in the report of kissing the woman and ‘touching her breast over her clothes’ and ‘pulling down [her] pants.’
In a May 2022 statement, after the 288-page report was made public, Hunt admitted to getting into a ‘compromising situation’ and had a ‘brief, but improper, encounter’ with the man’s wife, who was not named. He said he ‘fled’ the room after getting an ‘overwhelming feeling of conviction.’
He maintains that it was a ‘consensual encounter’ and that it was ‘not abuse nor was it assault.’
In 2022, Hunt and his wife Janet joined Hiland Park Baptist Church, where he was introduced as ‘one of the greatest pulpiteers in our generation.’
Florida pastor Evan Edwards: Accused of Covid scams
Evan Edwards, 64, has been hospitalized since December when he was arrested alongside his son for allegedly falsifying documents from his business ASLAN International Ministry
Edwards allegedly took advantage of the pandemic CARES Act to apply for the loans through the Paycheck Protection Program in 2020. His family planned to use the money to purchase a $3.7 million Disney World Resort home
The church was reportedly founded in 2005 in Ohio, but later applied to conduct business as a foreign nonprofit organization in Florida in 2018
Florida pastor Evan Edwards, 64, allegedly falsified documents for $8.4 million in Covid loans. The documents relate to his business ASLAN International Ministry, which is reportedly a church founded in 2005.
His family planned to use the money to purchase a $3.7 million Disney World Resort home.
He has been hospitalized since December when he was arrested alongside his son Josh. A judge on January 26 declared him incompetent to appear in court. Some have speculated that Edwards might be faking his illness to avoid trial.
Edwards’ arrest came more than two years after his family were stopped by Florida highway patrol while trying to flee the country in a Mercedes SUV, according to a federal complaint.
Federal agents found bags of shredded paper in the car and their electronic devices in a Faraday bag – a bag designed to protect against data loss.
At the time, they were arrested but released the next day and were understood to have fled to Canada until Edwards and his son returned to the Florida.
According to a federal court filing, Josh initially applied for a $6.91 million loan using documents to paint the church as a successful organization that had $51 million in revenue in 2019.
The family’s loan was approved in May 2020 at a total of $8.4 million, almost two million more than requested.
It remains unclear if Evan will stand trial. He and Josh are each charged with six counts of fraud and each face a maximum of 30 years in prison.